Having debates during the age of communication is a risky business, because of the rapidity of contact not to mention sheer quantity of information. The Guardian Weekly’s editor in chief, Katharine Viner, cites Emily Bell, as having written that “Social media hasn´t just swallowed journalism, it has swallowed everything. The future of publishing is being put into the “hands of the few, who now control the destiny of the many”.1
As well as this, there have been 500 years of male domination, leading to a chauvinistic arrogance and persuasion, they (chauvinists) know the right answer to all life. The social impact on women, as outsiders, reinforces a cultural imbalance that causes severe suffering to all. Humankind’s most precious survival quality – that of diversity – is disregarded.
A curious legacy remains, where many men can hail other men as great, but women cannot do the same for other women. Young girls are increasingly trapped in an identity of female disenchantment, which leaves them limited to discussing leading male names.
One evening I was confronted with why this male legacy of domination is so disastrous. Women’s gender identity is so fundamentally undermined, that many men are left free to let competition take over to a point of idiocy. Sound cultural patterns of trust and empathy then get lost and these are essential social needs for community stability. Let me give an example.
Cultural Patterns Claim to Sanctity
The occasion was a friendly gathering, when four women sat together round a table talking. They all openly accepted having inherited a system with an uneven gender climate. They were all professionally involved and felt themselves to have a gender perspective with regard to their various social participations. At some point, they had all expressed wanting to improve conditions for women.
That was why when Freud’s name came up in the conversation, rather than simply sweeping aside what he had done as not applicable to the present needs of women, Freud remained the topic. Not only that, his actions and how he had behaved towards women, became the object of controversy. Still they all agreed the widest public recognition of Freud was for claiming that he had scientific evidence showing that women were jealousy of men, because they had a penis.
Today this can sound so extreme it is unbelievable and almost funny. Not so at the end of the 19th century when it turned masculinity into a sort of freak sexual male quality. In spite of this and their interest in ‘women’s rights’, round the table the women’s conversation never graduated to discussing the impact Freud’s treatment had on his patient’s or his client’s actions and reactions to treatment. No one seemed to reflect that by focusing on an extreme chauvinistic figurehead in history and not the results of his actions towards women, the debate remained within a very masculine sphere.
When the journalist Richard Webster explored psychoanalysts, he saw Freud as “an over-zealous policeman” and traced Janet Malcolm’s descriptions of Freud’s sessions with his clients as closer to a legal investigation, rather than a sympathetic search into the roots of the human problem.2
The professors Judith Herman, Thomas Szasz, R. D. Laing & Michel Foucault are not only theorists they are humanists as well. From different angles, they are critical or supportive of psychiatry and concerned with Freud’s clients, while freely questioning his impact on society as a psychotherapist.
Professional disputes are endless about Freud’s sexual psychoanalysis and the ramifications can be misleading. That is why by studying Freud’s female clients’, his therapy’s practical results, gives an insight into the period’s social attitudes to women. It is Freud’s female clients and their ‘life experience’ that gives a valid insight into society’s gender imbalance. Recognising this would have saved four friends disputing.
Freud and his Clients’ Experiences
Of course Freud satisfied many clients. He is a good example however, because the changes he made in his treatment is shown in his professional notes on his clients and has been studied, as well as the treatment they received. We also know something about his clients’ lives, and the pressures they were under due to their social position reflecting the period’s attitudes. I shall only take up two of his better known female clients, and hop over the rest.
The best known female client is Bertha Pappenheim, who between the years of 1880-1882 was Josef Breuer’s patient and indirectly Freud’s as well, since Freud at that time collaborated with Breuer. In 1895 they published Studies on Hysteria based on Pappenheim’s case. They gave her the pseudonym of Anna O.
When we read about Pappenheim’s life and what she accomplished, if she is judged as ‘hysterical’ – which Breuer and Freud diagnosed her as being – I wonder who is not hysterical? Her social contributions were enormous and demanding, which she tackled level-headedly and with temperance throughout her life.3
She is socially recognised for defending those least able to defend themselves. In 1954 Germany produced a postage stamp in the series “Benefactors of Mankind” with a portrait of Bertha Pappenheim. In 1997 a museum seminar room was inaugurated in memory of Bertha on the former site of the ‘Neu-Isenburg home’ for endangered girls and unwed mothers, which she had founded and ran.
Pappenheim was a woman of extraordinary courage and bravery who up until her death from cancer in May 1936 committed her life to working toward prevention of trafficking women across Europe. She started this work in 1902. How many of us know that trafficking (abduction and sale of women abroad) was already a recognised social problem at that date?
Her involvement in social and political activities saw Pappenheim publishing her first works in Frankfurt in 1888, later writing under the pseudonym ‘P. Berthold’.
Both she and Freud belonged to the German Jewish communities. As said, in 1895, Breuer and Freud published a work about her in Vienna. It is unlikely they were not aware of Pappenheim’s activities. Even with Anna O as a pseudonym the therapists were hardly doing anything less than making a direct attack on another Jewish author’s work. Their analysis is a pointed undermining of the crimes Pappenheim was socially working to prevent. They had no respect for P. Berthold’s professional work.
Freud’s Reversal of Sympathetic Patient Attitudes
It helps to know the therapist Judith Herman records that Freud had begun by seeing the label ‘hysteria’ as an insult. Herman records, “Freud had privately repudiated his earlier compassion for his clients” and their frequent childhood stories of perverted sexual assault, abuse, and incest.4
Herman verifies the dramatic change in Freud’s notes when he refutes his earlier theories. Instead he backs ‘hysteria’ as a valid diagnosis, before leaving the subject of hysteria altogether, which had become a very hot potato. For professionals to recognise male sexual assault or incest as part of society was a risky business, being in direct opposition to the period’s political beliefs in Vienna at the time. Freud’s reversal of attitude is best recorded in notes on his patient Dora (Ida Bauer) whose “father had essentially offered her to his friends as a sexual toy”.5
Judith Herman describes the interaction between Ida and Freud as an “emotional combat” with Freud not listening to his patient. Ida broke off treatment after six weeks. Later material shows “Freud’s followers held a particular grudge against the rebellious Dora”. They blamed Ida as being impossible. No credit is given to Ida for reacting to Freud’s lack of client respect and his unreasonable treatment. Enormous courage is called for to survive and retain dignity intact under such circumstances.6
Was Pappenheim aware of Dora’s dilemma? Bertha only once refers to psychoanalysis in public. “Psychoanalysis in the hands of a doctor is what confession is in the hands of a Catholic priest;” she is recorded saying.7 Pappenheim wanted to change the grim reality psychiatry put on the young that needed help from sexual exploitation.8 Male sexual utilisation of women was so socially unrecognised in the system’s culture, that in 1907 Pappenheim points out that “under Jewish law a woman is not an individual, not a personality: she is only judged and assessed as a sexual being”.9
The Jewish attitude to women was to dominate much of Western European thinking, since the legal system supported the chauvinists. This meant fear of reprisals kept women from daring to go public. Ida’s case is evidence of how the label ‘hysteria’ encouraged child abuse to go unrecognised. A similar parallel of ‘child abuse’ is found today within the Catholic church’s institution.
The fundaments of a more stable social structure are found in Herman’s English book Trauma and Recovery and in Swedish in Perssons Relation och trauma. Both clarify why human sensitivity and awareness are essential social building blocks.
Freud began with sensitivity but lost his feelings when his career was endangered, competition taking over. His client Bertha retained her compassion for others, forming a political and moral social policy, to improve stability through empathy and caring.
The meeting between four women show how hidden information and social pressures limit women’s knowledge. They become caught in a net, like fish at sea, under such pressures they only see male cultural heroes. This is not uncommon, like fish out of water we all get caught in a social net that accepts male prerogatives, thereby failing to recognise women’s enormous contributions to social stability. For the same reason we also tend to not see women’s major contributions over the centuries to making our working lives a practical and liveable reality today.
- Kathrine Viner, weekly review, ‘Technology’s disruption of the truth’ The Guardian Weekly, 22.07.2016 page 28. Emily Bell is the director of the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.
- Richard Webster, 1998, page 200, 2nd paragraph in Why Freud was wrong, London: Fontana Press, Harper Collins Publisher
- Google ‘Bertha Pappenheim’, a member of the General German Women’s Association, (ADF) and founder of an ADF group publishing on women’s rights: active in other feminist groups Pappenheim also translated Wollstonecraft into German.
- Judith Lewis Herman 1997:14. On page 14 of Trauma and Recovery New York: Basic Books; this repudiation is described. (The book is also found in Swedish at Archaeological dep. Gothenburg University).
- Ibid: Last paragraph Freud’s reversal of his theory is described.
- Ibid: On p. 72 Herman explains what trauma means and how institutions are theoretically against rape, while in practice victims are not defended and offenders not sentenced.
- Elizabeth Loentz 2007:219 Let Me Continue to Speak the Truth: Bertha Pappenheim as Author and Activist. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press.
Webster, 1998:200 Ibid.
- Pappenheim, “Zur Sittlichkeitsfrage.” In: Helga Heubach (ed.), Sisyphus: Gegen den Mädchenhandel – Galizien. Freiburg im Breisgau: Kore, 1992. p. 112. The citation is found in Wikipedia under ‘Bertha Pappenheim’. http://gedenkbuch.neu-isenburg.de/en/bertha-pappenheim